It’s the last week of the 2023 Colorado State Legislative Session, so it should be a busy one. Though other proposals such as Governor Polis’ statewide housing bill SB 23-213 dominated much of the discussion, other bills such as SB 23-286 may be impactful to Colorado private investigators. This proposed legislation aims to modernize the Colorado Open Records Act. Sponsored by Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver in the Senate and Rep. Mark Snyder in the House, the most recent version of SB 23-286 passed a Colorado Senate committee on April 20th.
Originally crafted earlier in the year, recent changes to SB 23-286 include the addition of a provision that prohibits state agencies and local governments from requiring identification from records requestors. But one of the bill’s original goals to increase transparency by reducing costs to obtain records seems doomed. Earlier draft language that proposed a relief in the fees that public agencies charge to provide the records is no longer to be found. This means Colorado private investigators, the media, and any others interested in public records should expect to pay more next year, according to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s (FOIC) blog.
Little relief in fees likely
Fees for CORA requests, currently capped at $33.58 per hour, will likely rise with inflation pressure in 2024. It’s estimated they could rise to $38 or possibly $40 per hour. However, assuming the bill passes, private investigators in Denver and across the state will at least be able to count on some more convenient payment options. Key provisions in the bill include requiring records custodians to accept credit cards or electronic payments for records if they already accept them for other products and services. Custodians will no longer be able to charge a per-page fees for records provided in digital formats such as PDFs, either.
The new payment options and identification components of the bill may seem inspired by reporting by 9News’ Jeremy Jojola’s adventures in pursuing government records. Lakewood Police Department apparently shared a copy of his driver’s license as Jojola noted on Twitter in 2021. He raised the issue of the cost of transparency in this 2019 guest editorial on the Colorado FOIC website.
Bill broadens electronic mail to include all electronic communications
The bill also broadens the definition of “electronic mail” to “electronic communications” and includes all forms of electronic communications. Also related to digital records is a change that requires state agencies to keep electronic communications for at least the length of a proceeding (such as an investigation or a hearing). They may keep them longer if their records management programs require a longer retention period.
This last issue is worrisome to the state’s chief technology officer, according to the story on FOIC’s blog. Michael McReynolds, legislative liaison for the state Office of Information Technology, said he was authorized by the governor’s office “to say they are a little bit frustrated that (the records retention provision) only applies to the executive branch and not the legislative branch,” according to the story. Questions also remain as to how, exactly the state will be able to comply.
A proposal in earlier versions of the bill to place requestors in different categories is no longer part of the bill. One of those proposed categories was “news media,” which led to questions about how the state would define which “news media” qualified for the category. That seemed to dampen enthusiasm to using that approach to trying to reduce costs.
Protecting access to Colorado’s Open Records
Passed in 1969, CORA requires that all public records must be open to any person within reasonable times (with exceptions). It’s been invaluable to Ross Investigators and private investigations across Colorado, including for background and asset checks, public records such as court records, property records, and business records. PIs also rely on CORA for filings, pleadings, and judgments related to civil litigation cases. They use it to obtain records Related to insurance claims, including police reports, accident reports, and medical records. There’s been several pushes to update CORA in recent years. We’ll see how things go in the legislature this week and if the bill passes, what other changes it may affect.
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